If the winter weather finally relents, this month is always a great time get out into the garden when you can take advantage of warmer and longer days.
Dividing and Deadheading
The white carpet of those delicate purveyors of spring tidings, snowdrops, will start to fade. So lift them when in leaf, along with wood anemones and winter aconites, break up the clumps and replant, the show will be even better next year. Deadhead daffodils when they begin to fade, but do not cut off any leaves for about six weeks to give the bulbs a chance to re-energize.
Potted hyacinths that have infused the house with scent over the past few weeks can now be moved into the garden. Dead head them first but don't touch the foliage. Plant 3-4 ins deep and refresh them with liquid feed.
Dahlia tubers that have been overwintered can be placed in compost with the crown exposed in a frost free greenhouse or cold frame. Throw away any that are rotten or dried out and don't water until there's new growth. Cuttings can be taken from new shoots that are an about three inches long, remove with a sharp knife together with a piece of tuber and plant in compost. After a month they should have rooted and can be moved to small pots before planting out in June.
Geraniums and fuchsias that have over wintered can now be re-potted, don't over do the watering and new shoots will soon appear. Also pot up begonias and summer flowering bulbs such as montbretia and gladiolus.
Cut late flowering (July onwards) clemetis to about 12ins off the ground. Buddleias need to be cut back hard as well to a couple of buds. Prune fuchsia, santolina and lavatera so they keep a good shape.
Holly doesn't mind hard pruning, it will recover quite quickly if done at this time of the year and can even be cut down to the ground, although pruning female trees will mean less berries as flowers appear on old wood.
Remove dead wood from roses, any crossing stems and spindly growth, then prune the remaining stems by between a quarter and a third. Start feeding when they come into growth.
Cut back deciduous ornamental grasses, comb through evergreen varieties to remove dead material.
Wait until new shoots have appeared and then cut hydrangea stems down these new buds and cut out old woody stems on established shrubs. Leave stems longer in the middle to retain a shapely appearance. With Hydrangea arborescens new shoots emanate from the base so this can be pruned hard.
To encourage vigorous new growth that will be laden with fruit in two to four years, prune apple and pear trees to create an open framework.
There's still time to prune grape vines until the first buds appear. Remember that fruit will be on new growth, so cut back side shoots and create a structure that will have two bunches per rod.
Fruit will appear on last summer's blueberry stems, so prune by taking out any dead stems and cut back the oldest ones by about a quarter to a flowering bud.
If you are lucky enough to have a peach tree, protect early buds from frost with fleece. You may also need to hand pollinate them if the weather is cold and there aren't many insects around. Spray to prevent leaf curl.
Cut out the top growth of ferns to encourage new growth and keep pansies flowering throughout the spring by deadheading them regularly.
To prevent fushia seedlings becoming too tall, pinch out the tips and the result will be bushier plants.
Compost, Mulch And Manure
Introduce new compost into pots by scraping out the top 2ins and replacing it with fresh compost.
Whatever you use for mulching (rotted manure for fruit trees and roses or wood chips and bark for trees and shrubs) helps to suppress weeds, retains moisture and organic material will improve the soil structure.
Use a depth of about 2ins for to work properly. Leave space around woody stems to avoid rotting.
If you are going to grow brassicas, a crop that likes nitrogen and prefers an alkaline soil, you should have applied well rotted manure in the autumn. Now is the time to sweeten the earth with lime, that will also lessen the chances of club root. Perk up overwintering spring cabbage and cauliflower with a top dressing feed. Remove the yellowing leaves of brussels sprouts.
Start digging trenches for runner beans, breaking up the bottom and over the coming weeks filling with organic matter of every description, newspapers soaked in water, so that their roots will find a moist fertile haven to snuggle into.
Hopefully broken up from winter frost, rake over seed beds, removing any weeds and stones. This is a very satisfying procedure on a warm dry spring morning to achieve the finest tilth on a firm base, a welcoming home for your seeds. If necessary apply a dusting of fertilizer such as chicken manure or seaweed.
With mild weather, and especially if you have warmed the seed bed with cloches, it will be time to start thinking about sowing your summer vegetables.
Broad beans, beetroot (don't forget to soak the seeds), carrots and radish can be sown outside but preferably under cloches with cauliflowers that have been raised from seed.
Sow brussels sprouts indoors together with cabbages, globe artichokes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce and spinach. Keep them in a well lit positions so that the seedlings grow into stocky healthy plants.
Onion and shallot sets should be planted in a well drained sunny spot. Make sure the rows are easy to get a hoe between and weed. Don't push sets into the ground, use a dibber so that the tops are just poking out or else the sets will force themselves out without any help from the birds.
Sow peas in double or triple rows. push the seeds into the soil, rake over and they will be ready to pick in June.
Summer fruiting vegetables from hot climates need all summer to ripen so sow peppers, aubergines, cucumbers in specialist seed compost, firm down, cover with vermiculite, and then apply a little luke warm water. Place in a propagator which will provide the heat necessary for germination (18° - 25°C). After seedlings emerge move to a window sill to encourage strong seedlings that can be moved to individual pots when big enough.
If you like lilies, plant bulbs in a pot and leave them in a sheltered position, move the pots into the sun when shoots appear. If you gather mistletoe berries in the spring, squeeze out the seeds and place them in the crevices of an apple tree, this will help tiny roots to gain a foothold but you have to be patient as the seed may take a year to germinate.
Revive The Lawn
By mid-month it will be time to start preparing the lawn for a verdant new season. Rake off any leaves and brush in some grit or compost. Any areas that are wet, it might be time to dig up, add lots of grit and organic matter and re-lay. If the weather has been mild it may be time for the first cut of the year, setting the blades high on a dry day and that the cuttings are collected to avoid clogging up the surface.
And don't forget to remove any bubble wrap insulation from the greenhouse and clean the windows to introduce the maximum amount of light for the new season.
When temperatures begin to rise it’s a great time to get back outside and start work on your pond, preparing for the year ahead.
One of the most important jobs is to replace your ultra violet lamp, as their maximum UV output only lasts for around 6-9 months of continuous use. A full strength lamp is not required over the winter, but green water will become an increasing problem as the weather and pond water warms up. Please remember to never look at working UV lamps as this will damage your eyes.
Don't Forget Your Quartz Sleeve
Whilst you are changing your pond UV lamp it’s also advisable to remove the quartz sleeve and clean it. This is the glass tube which covers the lamp to stop water getting to it and causing damage. The reason that you should clean the quartz sleeve is because algae and lime scale can fuse onto it over time and if left unattended will coat the whole quartz, reducing the effectiveness of the UV light.
If the lime scale or algae cannot be removed, then it's best to purchase a replacement sleeve.
As you are taking apart your UV unit or filter it is an ideal time to replace any seals, usually available in service kits or as seals kits. You want to replace these because over time they tend to become hardened and brittle, not doing their job and allowing water into the unit. A damaged unit can prove much more costly than the price of a seal or pack of seals.
Pond Plants, Baskets and Hessian Liners
Divide up your marginal pond plants which have grown and become overcrowded, this will give them space to bloom this year, and it’s also useful to top up the gravel to prevent fish from digging into the plants.
Start buying your hessian liners, pond baskets and compost before they sell out at aquatic centres when the busy season begins. Always try to prevent any compost from falling into the pond when you are planting pond plants, the fertilizers in compost will feed algae and it will bloom more than ever.
Pond Cover Netting
If you haven’t already, remove pond cover netting which has been used to prevent leaves falling into the pond. If you use a net year all year round to protect against predators, cold weather during the winter may have made the netting brittle, so we would advise replacing it with a new one.
Pond Fish Food and Tonic Salt
If the weather is still cold but the fish are beginning to feed then offer them wheatgerm food as it is easier for them to digest than regular fish food. I also recommend that you feed them little and often at this time as opposed to a large feed once a day, this will get their digestive system used to eating again.
Due to their digestive system shutting down or slowing down during the winter your fish will be weak and so will their immune system, so it’s a good idea to dose the pond with tonic salt to give them a boost.
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